Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel



Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel
By Daniel Hindes
Rudolf Steiner’s curious relationship to Ernst Haeckel
has been much remarked upon. Indeed, it has been
the subject of several books1. Just what did Steiner, of
all people, see in the “Pope of Monism”? Rudolf
Steiner himself gave an answer, and no one who has
gone into any depth on the subject has yet found it
necessary to object to Steiner’s description. In
Haeckel Steiner saw the seeds of a few important
ideas, and these he championed. The rest he cared
little for but did not speak of this publicly, at least not
initially. In examining this question we are really
delving into the cultural battles of a bygone era, but
this is important in order to understand Haeckel,
Steiner, and their cultural milieu.
Mainstream central European thought towards the
end of the 19th century was still dealing with the
upheavals brought by Darwin and the challenges of
natural science to the authority of the Church. In this
Austria particularly was a little behind in this struggle.
These questions had been widely discussed to a far
greater degree in England and the United States by
that point in time. Religious dogmatism was still
fighting valiantly in Austria for its hold on the mind of
the masses. Steiner had a number of objections to
religious dogmatism, including the fact that the
Church presents it tenets as revealed knowledge, as
in: truth, take it or leave it. The static nature of the
religious dogmatism was particularly troubling to
Steiner. There was no place for the concept of
development in the religious beliefs that he
Who was Ernst Haeckel?
Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was born 1834
in Potsdam, but grew up in Merseburg, just outside of
Leipzig. His father was a lawyer and worked for the
government. After studying at Würtzburg, in 1857 he
obtained a medical degree from the University of
Berlin under pressure from his family. His own
interests were towards Botany and, through his
professor Johannes Müller (1801-1858), Zoology.
Among others, Johannes Hemleben, Rudolf Steiner und Ernst Haeckel, Stuttgart
1965 and Karl Ballmer, Rudolf Steiner und Ernst Haeckel , Hamburg 1929, as well
as just about every biographer who has dealt with Steiner in any depth.
Müller was an anatomist and physiologist, and it was
with him that Haeckel did field work, observing small
sea creatures on the north German coast. Haeckel
opened his medical practice, but he was not
enthusiastic about it.
Reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species by Means of
Natural Selection was an important event in his life. He
went back to school in Jena, studying under Carl
Gegenbauer and then became professor of
comparative anatomy there in 1862. Haeckel’s early
scientific work was in the area of invertebrates. Well
regarded to this day for his fieldwork, he named
thousands of new species from 1859 to 1887. It was
out of this work that Haeckel developed a number of
the ideas for which he is known, including his law of
recapitulation: ontology recapitulates phylogeny2.
This thesis is also known as the Biogenetic Law, and
states that the development of an embryo and the
stages of growth of the young of a species repeat the
evolutionary development of that species. Haeckel
was quite quotable, and has left as a legacy to biology
such words as phylum, phylogeny and ecology –
“oekologie” which he created from the Greek root
oikos to refer to the relationship of an animal to its
organic and inorganic environment.
Haeckel was deeply impressed with Darwin's Origin of
the Species by Means of Natural Selection. While he
deprecated the idea of natural selection as the
mechanism of evolution, he was enthusiastic about
the concept of biological evolution itself. In his 1862
From Ernst Haeckel. Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth
Century. 1899. as cited in “Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich." Encyclopedia Britannica.
1911. 24 Jan. 2004.
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"I established the opposite view, that this history of the embryo
(ontogeny) must be completed by a second, equally valuable, and
closely connected branch of thought - the history of race
(phylogeny). Both of these branches of evolutionary science, are, in
my opinion, in the closest causal connection; this arises from the
reciprocal action of the laws of heredity and adaptation...
'ontogenesis is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogenesis,
determined by the physiological functions of heredity (generation)
and adaptation (maintenance).'"
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 1 of 8
monograph on Radiolaria he placed Darwin's concept
in a central role, and in his 1866 book General
Morphology he attempted to work out the practical
implications of evolutionary theory in a general way.
Haeckel's General morphology did not sell very well,
so Haeckel rewrote the concepts in a more popular
form and published the results in an 1868 book called
The Natural History Of Creation (Natürliche
Schöpfungsgeschichte). This along with an active
lecturing and writing career led him to become the
leading proponent of evolution in German-speaking
countries. It is important to note that although
Haeckel was a proponent of Evolution, he was not
technically a Darwinian because he did not believe
that natural selection was the method by which
evolution progressed. This deprecation of the
concept of natural selection as the mechanism of
forward progress of evolution Haeckel had in
common with Rudolf Steiner, another strong
proponent of evolution, although of a more spiritual
kind.3 Haeckel's view was more in the tradition of
Lamarck; he felt that environmental influences acted
upon organisms to create differentiation.
Haeckel's efforts on behalf of evolution went well
beyond merely scientific endeavors. He wrote
profusely on many non-scientific subjects. While still
considered quite competent as an invertebrate
anatomist, most of his speculative writings have
come to be regarded as mistaken. These speculative
writings branch out into areas such as anthropology,
psychology (which he proposed be considered a
branch of physiology), ethics, theology, politics, and
cosmology. His was a systematic and synthesizing
mind and he was unafraid to go boldly where the
evidence would barely support him. One area of
speculation was how organic matter arose from
inorganic matter, or the origin of life. Having studied
the rather crystalline Radiolaria, Haeckel arrived at the
conclusion that a process of crystallization had
produced organic life forms from inorganic matter in
a spontaneous process. He posited the existence of a
“monera” or protoplasm without nuclei, as the
common ancestor of all organic life forms. Evidence
of such a creature has not yet been found, and most
biologists doubt it ever will be.
This courage to fill gaps in scientific knowledge with
intuitions was typical of Haeckel. He was the first to
attempt a systematic genealogical tree showing the
evolution of higher life forms from lower ones, filling
in the gaps where necessary. He perfected and
elaborated his genealogical tree over decades. While
some particulars have changed from Haeckel's time,
his basic outline remains essentially intact, and the
concept of an evolutionary tree is central to modern
Haeckel's popular presentation of evolution in
German-speaking countries and his eminently
quotable prose led him to become a nineteenthcentury celebrity. He appeared to enjoy this role
greatly, and seemed encouraged by this to take on
the greater philosophical questions, as well as rattle
the chains of old church dogma with great
enthusiasm. His speculative writings saw a
culmination in his 1899 book The Riddle Of The
Universe (Die Welträtzel). In this book he elaborated a
comprehensive philosophical system based upon his
biological and evolutionary findings. Here he
contemplated the philosophical implications and
theological consequences of organic evolution.
Ultimately he saw not qualitative but only
quantitative differences between self-conscious
human beings and other highly evolved mammals.
His was a philosophy of Monism - namely a belief that
the universe is ultimately a differentiation of a single
type of substance. 4
Haeckel’s work was very influential in his lifetime and
for some time thereafter. His efforts were a significant
factor in the wider acceptance of the theory of
evolution in central Europe, and his more
philosophical works were a subject of much debate in
intellectual circles for decades. Parts of his
philosophical works show the influence of the
negative traits of his time period, and these in
particular were exploited by admiring national
socialists. In Haeckel they found justifications for a
eugenic policy is based on Social Darwinism, for
racism, and for nationalism. Haeckel's quote "politics
See Rudolf Steiner. The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World
Conception. GA2, Chapter 1, part 16 for a full discussion of adaptation and
natural selection from Steiner's perspective.
As a philosophy, Monism stands in obvious opposition to Dualism. Whereas
Dualists see a fundamental differentiation between mind and body, the simple
forms of Monism claim that the world is entirely one thing, either material, in
which case it is called Philosophical Materialism, or that is entirely mental or
spiritual, called Philosophical Idealism.
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 2 of 8
is applied biology" was taken to its logical conclusion
under Hitler.
Creationists have found Haeckel a favorite target
because of errors both small and large in the various
parts of his scientific work.
While Haeckel's "law of recapitulation" (ontology
recapitulates phylogeny) has been boldly declared
disproved for much of the 20th century, a
comprehensive understanding, as usual, shows that
such a statement is overly simple. An unsigned
presentation on the University of California at
Berkeley's Evolution website revisited the idea
considerably more direct about his opinions. The
following quote is probably the most concise
summary of Steiner's views. It was written by Steiner
for Eduard Schuré, a writer and publicist for
esotericism and author of the book The Great Initiates.
Schuré was at that point an admirer of Steiner's, and
had asked for information about Steiner's intellectual
and spiritual background. The answer was several
pages, written by Steiner in Barre, Alsace (France), in
1907 when Steiner was 46, and today referred to as
"The Barre Document".
"And not long afterwards Haeckel's 60th
birthday took place, celebrated with great
festivity in Jena. Haeckel's friends invited me. I
saw Haeckel for the first time on that occasion.
His personality is enchanting, and stands in
complete contrast to the tone of his writings. If,
at any time, he had studied even just a small
amount of philosophy, in which he is not merely
a dilettante but a child, he would quite surely
have drawn the highest spiritual conclusions
from his epoch-making phylogenetic studies.
"Now, in spite of all German philosophy, in
spite of all the rest of German culture, Haeckel's
phylogenetic idea is the most significant event
in German intellectual life in the latter half of the
nineteenth century. And there is no better
scientific foundation to esotericism than
Haeckel's teaching. Haeckel's teaching is
exemplary, but Haeckel is the worst
commentator on it. Culture is not served by
exposing Haeckel's weaknesses to his
contemporaries, but by explaining to them the
greatness of his phylogenetic concept. This I
now did in my two volumes: 'Thinking in the
19th Century' which is dedicated to Haeckel,
and the little publication, 'Haeckel and his
”At present, German spiritual life really exists
only in Haeckel's phylogeny; philosophy is in a
state of hopeless unproductiveness, theology is
a web of hypocrisy which is not aware in the
slightest of its dishonesty, and the sciences have
fallen into the most barren philosophical
ignorance in spite of great empirical progress.6
“The 'law of recapitulation' has been discredited
since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Experimental morphologists and biologists have
shown that there is not a one-to-one
correspondence between phylogeny and
ontogeny. Although a strong form of
recapitulation is not correct, phylogeny and
ontogeny are intertwined, and many biologists
are beginning to both explore and understand the
basis for this connection.” 5
Haeckel and Fascism
Haeckel’s philosophy, like the Social Darwinism of
Spencer, easily lent itself to use as a justification for
certain political policies, and was especially favored
by the National Socialists. Haeckel's own statement,
"politics is applied biology" shows that Haeckel
himself was not unaware of the possibilities, or averse
in principle to such an application of his ideas. That
Haeckel and his Monist philosophy were in
application politically reactionary and provided
important justification to National Socialism does not,
in itself, mean that every idea of Haeckel's is
necessarily tainted. And if we examined carefully
exactly which aspects of Haeckel's work Rudolf
Steiner admired, it becomes clear that these aspects
were not the ones that National Socialists favored.
Rudolf Steiner's Relationship to Haeckel
Steiner's view of Haeckel was more or less consistent
throughout his lifetime. In public Steiner expressed
himself carefully about certain aspects of Haeckel's
thought while maintaining a silence concerning other
portions with which he disagreed. Privately, he was
These paragraphs are essential for understanding
Steiner's view of Haeckel. Haeckel's phylogenetic
Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner. Correspondence and Documents: 1901-1925.
New York: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988. Page 13.
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 3 of 8
concept is extraordinarily valuable, but Haeckel
himself is the worst advocate for this concept. 7
Further, the quote "culture is not served by exposing
Haeckel's weaknesses to his contemporaries" is
essential in understanding Steiner's failure to criticize
the more ridiculous aspects of Haeckel's Monist
philosophy. This failure to criticize has led more than
one thinker to conclude that Steiner was in full
agreement with these more ridiculous aspects.
However, a more careful reading of Steiner's actual
"praise" will show how narrowly directed it actually is.
"I cannot speak of Lyell or Darwin without
thinking of Haeckel. All three belong together.
What Lyell and Darwin began, Haeckel took
further. He expanded it in full consciousness, to
serve not only the scientific needs but also the
religious consciousness of mankind. He is the
most modern spirit, because his Weltanschauung
(view of the world) does not cling to any of the old
prejudices, such as was still the case, for example,
with Darwin. He is the most modern thinker,
because he sees the natural as the only realm for
thinking, and he is the most modern in sensibility,
because he wants to know life as organized in
accordance with the natural. … When Haeckel
talks with us about the processes of Nature, every
word has a secondary meaning for us that is
related with our feeling. He sits at the rudder, and
steers powerfully. Even when many of the places
towards which he steers us are ones we would
rather not go past; still, he has the direction in
which we want to go. From Lyell and Darwin's
hands he took the handle of the rudder, and they
could have given it to no one better. He will pass it
on to others that will travel in his direction. And
our community sails rapidly forwards, leaving
behind the helpless ferrymen of the old
Haeckel is praised for being a modern thinker – for
the processes of his thought and for his general
direction, and not for any specific results. Steiner also
speaks of the feeling that Haeckel's contemporaries
(and Steiner includes himself) have about Haeckel's
work. And Steiner states that Haeckel's general
direction is correct, even as he registers his
metaphorical reservations to some of Haeckel's
specific conclusions.
Besides the Law of Recapitulation, Steiner valued
Haeckel's actual courage to think beyond the narrow
confines of his specialty and grapple with the deeper
questions of existence. Whether Haeckel's results
were correct or not was immaterial to Steiner; the
effort was rare and deserved praise.
"Then for the first time I saw in Haeckel the person
who placed himself courageously at the thinker's
point of view in natural science, while all other
researchers excluded thought and admitted only
the results of sense-observation. The fact that
Haeckel placed value upon creative thought in
laying the foundation for reality drew me again
and again to him." 9
Haeckel dared to use creative thought, and even if the
results of this thought ended up being philosophical
dilettantism or worse, Steiner admired the attempt.
And Steiner was quite clear on how he disagreed with
"I believe [Haeckel] never knew what the
philosophers wished from him. This was my
impression from a conversation I had with him in
Leipzig after the appearance of his Riddle of the
Universe, ... He then said: “People say I deny the
spirit. I wish they could see how materials shape
themselves through their forces; then they would
perceive ‘spirit’ in everything that happens in a
retort. Everywhere there is spirit.” Haeckel, in fact,
knew nothing whatever of the real Spirit. The very
forces of nature were for him the 'spirit,' and he
could rest content with this." 10
This position Steiner reiterated in a letter to Marie von Sievers:
"Haeckel contains things which must be thrown away as a cultural afterbirth.
His positive side is like an embryo which is wrapped in the materialistic womb
of the 19th century. But I see Haeckel's positive aspects as something which can
develop. There are two forms of thinking in our time; on the one hand the
developing, embryonic one: Haeckel in zoology; Schiller-Goethe must fertilize
this form. …"
Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner. Correspondence and Documents: 1901-1925.
New York: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988. Page 60.
Rudolf Steiner. Methodsche Grundlagen der Anthroposophie. Dornach: Verlag
der Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, 1961. Page 364. (GA 30 – Translation by
Daniel Hindes)
Haeckel himself thought his philosophical work was
an Idealistic Monism and not a Materialistic Monism,
but this, felt Steiner, was a misunderstanding on
Rudolf Steiner. The Course of My Life. Chapter 30
Rudolf Steiner. The Course of My Life. Chapter 30.
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 4 of 8
Haeckel's part concerning the true nature of
philosophical Idealism.
Steiner also valued Haeckel's specifically scientific
work, including Haeckel's morphology. Two quotes
from among many will illustrate this. In a 1916 lecture
Steiner said:
"Here I should like to state emphatically that I
cherish the same high respect today for Haeckel's
magnificent scientific achievements within the
cosmic scheme, proper to natural science, as I did
years ago. I still believe and always have believed
that a correct appreciation of Haeckel's
achievements is the best means of transcending a
certain one-sidedness in his views. It is entirely
intelligible that he could not attain to this insight
This reiterates a continual theme in Steiner's work. In
1908 he said essentially the same thing in another
"Haeckel does not err when explaining by the laws
of materialistic morphology phenomena of which
he has exceptional knowledge; if he had confined
himself to a certain category of phenomena he
could have performed an enormous service to
And Steiner recommended studying Haeckel as an
exercise and prerequisite for seeking spiritual vision:
"If you are touched by the Rosicrucian principle as
here intended, study the system of Haeckel, with
all its materialism; study it, and at the same time
permeate yourselves with the methods of
cognition indicated in Knowledge of Higher Worlds
and its Attainment. Take what you learn in
Haeckel's Anthropogenesis: on the Ancestors of
Man. In that form it may very likely repel you.
Learn it nevertheless; learn all that can be learned
about it by outer Natural Science, and carry it
towards the Gods; then you will get what is
related about evolution in my Occult Science."13
Human Life in the Light of Spiritual Science Liestal, October 16, 1916
GA 35
Macrocosm and Microcosm, Lecture 9
GA233a Lecture: 13th January, 1924
So Steiner valued Haeckel's work in a number of
contexts, and Haeckel's efforts in general, but by no
means subscribed to all of Haeckel's views.
All of the quotes so far have been from Steiner's
Anthroposophical period. Did Steiner always think of
Haeckel this way, or was he once completely under
the sway of Haeckel's philosophy as has been alleged
by some critics attempting to paint Steiner as
Why did Steiner dedicate a book to Haeckel?
Just two years before stepping forward as an initiate
Rudolf Steiner completed a systematic survey of
philosophical thought in the nineteenth century and
dedicated it too, of all people, Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel
himself a just finished his the book and considered
himself a philosopher as well as a scientist. Later as he
published books such as Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner
found himself in the position of having to defend this
dedication, as it was considered inconsistent with
Anthroposophy as Steiner was attempting to unfold
it. In the preface to his book An Outline Of Esoteric
Science Rudolf Steiner noted:
A reader of the author's earlier writings — for
example his work on nineteenth century
philosophies or his short essay on Haeckel and his
Opponents — might well be saying: ‘How can one
and the same man be the author of these works
and of the book Theosophy (published in 1904) or
of the present volume? How can he take up the
cudgels for Haeckel and then offend so grossly
against the straightforward monism, the
philosophic outcome of Haeckel's researches?
One could well understand the writer of this
Occult Science attacking all that Haeckel stood for;
that he defended him and even dedicated to him
one of his main works appears preposterously
inconsistent. Haeckel would have declined the
dedication in no uncertain terms, had he known
that the same author would one day produce the
unwieldy dualism of the present work.’
Yet in the author's view one can appreciate
Haeckel without having to stigmatize as nonsense
whatever is not the direct outcome of his range of
thought and his assumptions. We do justice to
Haeckel by entering into the spirit of his scientific
work, not by attacking him — as has been done
— with every weapon that comes to hand. Least
of all does the author hold any brief for those of
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 5 of 8
Haeckel's adversaries against whom he defended
the great naturalist in his essay on Haeckel and his
Opponents. If then he goes beyond Haeckel's
assumptions and placed the spiritual view side by
side with Haeckel's purely naturalistic view of the
Universe, this surely does not rank him with
Haeckel's opponents. Anyone who takes sufficient
trouble will perceive that there is no insuperable
contradiction between the author's present work
and his former writings. 14
And so Steiner himself states the essence of the
argument: it is possible to appreciate Haeckel without
agreeing with him, and it is possible to disagree with
Haeckel without agreeing with all the others who
disagree with him. 100 years later the exact same
objections are still being raised to Steiner's work in
relationship to Ernst Haeckel.
Steiner dedicated a book to Haeckel because he
appreciated Haeckel's efforts and found some very
useful aspects in them. He was not then, nor was he
ever, in complete agreement with everything Haeckel
said. That this fact continues to be ignored by so
many critics of Anthroposophy speaks either to their
ignorance of Steiner and his work or to a deliberate
distortion thereof.
Appendix 1:
Steiner's description of his meeting with Ernst
I had at first no occasion to become personally
acquainted with Haeckel, about whom I was impelled
to think very much. Then his sixtieth birthday came. I
was invited to share in the brilliant festival which was
being arranged in Jena. The human element in this
festival attracted me. During the banquet Haeckel's
son, whom I had come to know at Weimar, where he
was attending the school of painting, came to me and
said that his father wished to have me presented to
him. The son then did this.
Thus I became personally acquainted with Haeckel.
He was a fascinating personality. A pair of eyes which
looked naïvely into the world, so mild that one had
the feeling that this look must break when the
sharpness of thought penetrated through. This look
could endure only sense-impressions, not thoughts
Preface to Theosophy
which reveal themselves in things and occurrences.
Every movement of Haeckel's was directed to the
purpose of admitting what the senses expressed, not
to permit the ruling thoughts to reveal themselves in
the senses. I understood why Haeckel liked so much
to paint. He surrendered himself to physical vision.
Where he ought to have begun to think, there he
ceased to unfold the activity of his mind and
preferred to fix by means of his brush what he had
Such was the very being of Haeckel. Had he merely
unfolded this, something human unusually
stimulating would have been thus revealed.
But in one corner of his soul something stirred which
was wilfully determined to enforce itself as a definite
thought content – something derived from quite
another attitude toward the world than his sense for
nature. The tendency of a previous earthly life, with a
fanatical turn directed toward something quite other
than nature, craved the satisfaction of its passion.
Religious politics vitally manifested itself from the
lower part of the soul and made use of ideas of nature
for its self-expression.
In such contradictory fashion lived two beings in
Haeckel. A man with mild love-filled sense for nature
and in the background something like a shadowy
being with incompletely thought-out, narrowly
limited ideas breathing out fanaticism. When Haeckel
spoke, it was with difficulty that he permitted the
fanaticism to pour forth into his words; it was as if the
softness which he naturally desired blunted in speech
a hidden demonic something. A human riddle which
one could but love when one beheld it, but about
which one could often speak in wrath when it
expressed opinions. Thus I saw Haeckel before me as
he was then preparing in the nineties of the last
century what led later to the furious spiritual battle
that raged over his tendency of thought at the
turning-point between the centuries. 15
Appendix 2:
Some other Statements of Steiner's concerning
Haeckel and his work:
Rudolf Steiner. The Course of My Life. Chapter 15
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 6 of 8
Describing his relationship to Haeckel's philosophy in
his autobiography:
"Thus the natural-scientific evolutionary succession,
as represented by Haeckel, never constituted for me
something wherein mechanical or merely organic
laws controlled, but as something wherein the spirit
led the living being from the simple through the
complex up to man. I saw in Darwinism a mode of
thinking which is on the way to that of Goethe, but
which remains behind this."16
In his autobiography Steiner also attempts to show
how he continually maintained his intellectual
independence from Haeckel:
"The other lecture I gave in Vienna at the invitation of
the Scientific Club. It dealt with the possibility of a
monistic conception of the world on the basis of a
real knowledge of the spiritual. There I set forth that
man by means of his senses grasps the physical side
of reality “from without” and by means of his spiritual
awareness grasps its spiritual side “from within,” so
that all which is experienced appears as an unified
world in which the sensible manifests the spirit and
the spirit reveals itself creatively in the sensible.
This occurred at the time when Haeckel had
formulated his own monistic philosophy through his
lecture on Monismus als Band Zwischen Religion und
Wissenschaft (Monism as a bond between religion and
science). Haeckel, who knew of my being in Weimar,
sent me a copy of his speech. I reciprocated his
courtesy by sending him the issue of the newspaper
in which my lecture at Vienna was printed. Whoever
reads this lecture must see how opposed I then was
to the monism advanced by Haeckel when occasion
rose for me to express what a man has to say about
this monism for whom the spiritual world is
something into which he sees.
But there was at that time another occasion for me to
give thought to monism in the colouring given it by
Haeckel. He seemed to me a phenomenon of the
scientific age. Philosophers saw in Haeckel the
philosophical dilettante, who really knew nothing
except the forms of living creatures to which he
applied the ideas of Darwin in the order in which he
had rightly arranged them, and who explained boldly
that nothing further is required for the forming of a
Rudolf Steiner. The Course of My Life. Chapter 30.
world-conception than what can be grasped by a
Darwinian observer of nature. Students of nature saw
in Haeckel a fantastic person who drew from naturalscientific observations conclusions which were
Since my work required that I should realize what was
the inner temper of thought about the world and
man, about nature and spirit, as this had been
dominant a hundred years earlier in Jena, when
Goethe interjected his natural-scientific ideas into this
thought, I saw in Haeckel an illustration of what was
then thought in this direction. Goethe's relation to
the views of nature belonging to his period I had to
visualize inwardly in all its details during my work. At
the place in Jena from which came the important
stimulations to Goethe to formulate his ideas on
natural phenomena and the being of nature, Haeckel
was at work a century later with the assertion that he
could draw from a knowledge of nature the standard
for a conception of the world.
In addition it happened that, at one of the first
meetings of the Goethe Society in which I
participated during my work at Weimar, Helmholtz
read a paper on Goethes Vorahnungen kommender
naturwissenschaftlicher Ideen (the Goethe's prescience
of coming natural scientific ideas). I was then
informed of much in later natural-scientific ideas
which Goethe had “previsioned” by reason of
fortunate inspirations; but it was also pointed out
how Goethe's errors in this field bore upon his theory
of colour.
When I turned my attention to Haeckel, I wished
always to set before my mind Goethe's own
judgment of the evolution of natural-scientific views
in the century following that which saw the
development of his own; as I listened to Helmholtz I
had before my mind the judgment of Goethe by this
I could not then do otherwise than say to myself that,
if one thought of the being of nature in the dominant
spiritual temper of that time, that must necessarily
result which Haeckel thought in utter philosophical
naïveté; those who opposed him showed everywhere
that they restricted themselves to mere senseperception and would avoid the further evolution of
this perception by means of thinking." 17
Writing in The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's
World Conception, Rudolf Steiner said:
Rudolf Steiner. The Course of My Life. Chapter 15
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 7 of 8
"A look at the views of Haeckel, who is certainly the
most significant of the natural-scientific theoreticians
of the present day, shows us that the objection we are
making to the organic natural science of our day is
entirely justified: namely, that it does not carry over
into organic nature the principle of scientific
contemplation in the absolute sense, but only the
principle of inorganic nature. When he demands of all
scientific striving that “the causal interconnections of
phenomena become recognized everywhere,” when
he says that “if psychic mechanics were not so
infinitely complex, if we were also able to have a
complete overview of the historical development of
psychic functions, we would then be able to bring
them all into a mathematical soul formula,” then one
can see clearly from this what he wants: to treat the
whole world according to the stereotype of the
method of the physical sciences." 18
In Steiner's book Philosophy of Freedom, Haeckel is
"Ethical individualism then, is not in opposition to an
evolutionary theory if rightly understood, but is a
direct continuation of it. It must be possible to
continue Haeckel's genealogical tree, from protozoa
to man as organic being, without interruption of the
natural sequence, and without a breach in the
uniform development, right up to the individual as a
moral being in a definite sense. But never will it be
possible to deduce the nature of a later species from
the nature of an ancestral species. True as it is that the
moral ideas of the individual have perceptibly
evolved out of those of his ancestors, it is also true
that an individual is morally barren if he himself has
no moral ideas." 19
The theme of the general accuracy of Haeckel's
phylogenic trees came up often in Steiner's early
lectures. This is one example:
of the world. Look at Haeckel's famous phylogenic
trees, for example, in which evolution is
materialistically explained. If instead of matter you
consider the spiritual stages, as Theosophy describes
them, then you can make the phylogenic trees as
Haeckel did — only the explanation is different." 20
Ballmer, Karl. "Rudolf Steiner und Ernst Haeckel."
Hamburg: Im Selbstverlag, 1929.
“Haeckel, Ernest Heinrich." Encyclopedia Britannica.
1911. 24 Jan. 2004.
"Haeckel, Ernest." Encyclopedia Britannica 2002
Deluxe Edition. CD-ROM. New York: Encyclopedia
Britannica , 2002.
“Haeckel, Ernest Heinrich." University of California,
Berkeley; Museum of Palentology online. 24 Jan. 2004.
Hemleben, Johannes. "Rudolf Steiner und Ernst
Haeckel." Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1965.
Steiner, Rudolf and Marie. "Correspondence and
Documents: 1901-1925." New York: Rudolf Steiner
Press, 1988.
Steiner, Rudolf. The Course of My Life
Steiner, Rudolf GA233a, Lecture of January 13th, 1924.
Steiner, Rudolf. "The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in
Goethe's World Conception." (GA2).
Steiner, Rudolf. "Philosophy of Freedom".
Steiner, Rudolf. GA89 Lecture of June 9th, 1904.
"Theosophical cosmology is a self-contained whole,
derived from the wisdom of the most developed
seers. If I had a little more time I would be able to
indicate to you how certain natural scientific facts are
conducive to testifying to the accuracy of this image
GA2 The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception Chapter
1 part 16
Philosophy of Freedom, Part 12
GA89 Lecture: 9th June, 1904
Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel – © 2004 Daniel Hindes – Page 8 of 8

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